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‘The Nix’ deserves a second glance

February 5, 2017

 

Penguin Random House

Dillon Nelson
Staff Reporter | djn005@latech.edu

 

After the results of the recent presidential election, Nathan Hill’s “The Nix” deserves a second glance.

 

With timely social commentary and haunting parallels with the 1968 presidential race, this novel can be seen as a sobering blueprint for how we as individuals in a greater society can move past irrational fear of what we can’t know completely.

 

The story centers on Samuel, a jaded, sensitive professor of English, as he seeks out his long-lost mother. He intends to write a tell-all novel about her after she commits an act of what people in certain circles call “political terrorism.”

 

The story takes its time providing answers as to why Samuel wants to write about her. Even when it answers what seem to be the most important questions early on, new, interesting questions take their place. This is especially true during the exhausting penultimate section which breathlessly provides answers while still intensifying the need for catharsis. Still, Hill’s steady artistic  balancing act succeeds in the end.

 

From the outset, politics, pop culture and the 24-hour news cycle are picked apart. Hill finds wrinkles in familiar topics and demonstrates their fakeness. Shallow pop-stars like Molly Miller (with one-phrase choruses like, “You have got to represent”) and life-ruining MMORPGs like “Elfscape” are just a couple of ways Hill finds to skewer familiar, easy targets.

 

Politics are discussed in a surprisingly neutral manner. Though “The Nix” does seem to lean liberal at times, there are moments of even-handedness which call progressive types out for their own shabby, sanctimonious sins. This in particular gives “The Nix” its unique, universal overall feel.

 

Periwinkle, Samuel’s publisher, presses him for a linear, crowd-pleasing book. Seemingly in response to this, Hill bounces from character to character and from year to year to tell his story. Though Samuel and his mother Faye are the sources of most of the intrigue, Hill devotes long segments to fleshing out side characters. This oddly works in satisfying ways throughout, especially as this intricate web of relations begins to wrap up.

 

This nonlinear technique might cause the reader to lose whatever momentum they might have been gaining in a lesser novel. However, Hill’s humourous, psychological style is able to establish whatever state of mind the character POV might be in and keep things rolling addictively on as if there had been no chapter break.

 

In between all of Hill’s  sharp satire and engaging prose, Hill is always able to find the human element in each plot point and character. This is all to say no matter what one’s convictions are, no matter how strongly they may believe something, there is always a fresh start or different angle. Constantly throughout “The Nix,” Hill drives this point home ample humor and grace.

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